Worriers tend to bristle against power, but their debut album, Imaginary Life, isn’t stacked with protest songs — at least not traditional ones. Led by vocalist and guitarist Lauren Denitzio, the New York band rages against romantic angst one minute and flips off the police the next, never slowing their beat or softening their timbre. Produced by Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace, Imaginary Life is a snappy, lean record that hones in on the space where the personal falls under the shadow of the political. Given the current state of late capitalism (and the current visibility of its many cracks), that shadow looms especially large.
Grace’s production hand can be felt in the bright, warm guitars here, but you also get the sense that Denitzio has been a fan of Against Me! for a while. The vocals on Imaginary Life echo Grace’s on Transgender Dysphoria Blues: They’re strong and sturdy, ringing with a slight vibrato. In both their political barbs and their songs’ hooks, Worriers also bring to mind the Thermals, who made pop punk into a harbor of protest inside indie rock during the George W. Bush years. But Denitzio doesn’t attempt the same lyrical acrobatics as Grace or the Thermals’ Hutch Harris, who would stretch metaphors to the length of concept albums. Instead, Worriers opt to keep things more or less literal, grounded in memory and hope alike.
Imaginary Life holds a lot of restlessness. Sometimes it comes in the form of regret, like in the love-gone-sour “Plans”, where Denitzio sees all the red flags of a relationship only in retrospect. Sometimes it’s more openly (and humorously) hostile. On “Good Luck”, Denitzio hollers “I hope you hate New England” to a woman who has retired to the country for a comfortable married life: “Sit back and watch as your self-righteous plans just disintegrate/ It’s quite a twist of fate.”
Worriers hit their best notes when they’re riled up, as if the anger itself were sculpting their melodies. “Yes All Cops” is a protest song about police brutality sung from the perspective of a white person who’s ready to relinquish their complicity in structural racism: “Sometimes silence is a loaded gun/ In the hands of all of us,” Denitzio sings. Then, on “They/Them/Theirs”, silence turns into a kind of calm inside a struggle between internal gender identity and outside perception: “What if there’s no better word than just not saying anything?” Language itself breaks down here, as the song asks you to position yourself “between a rock and ‘why bother.’” The turn of phrase turns itself inside out as that hard place disintegrates, replaced by a sigh passed off as a noun.
These lyrical moments are simple but concrete; Denitzio doesn’t try to sound lofty or poetic, but just wants to get the words out before the chorus is up. Sometimes, the words get so gray as to slip into the air. “Advance Notice” includes some solid truisms like “life comes without a warning,” but feels vague and limp after the pointed rhetoric of “Yes All Cops”. Denitzio’s words are Worriers’ biggest weapons, and here they fall a little blunt.
At their most scathing, Worriers are also at their funniest. “Life During Peacetime” sees Denitzio worrying about “not enough love and too much debt” in the world, but the song hits a more complicated emotional reality than that one line alone. It’s possible to want comfort and to hate all that must be done in this world to attain it. You can work towards the house, the family, the retirement; you can love all those things and still hate the price the system makes you pay for them. Denitzio captures the gray space between desire and revulsion, and finds power there between the poles.
Essential Tracks: “Life During Peacetime”, “Yes All Cops”, and “They/Them/Theirs”